How artists can improve on gesture drawings – ultimate tips

There are a few key differences between gesture drawing and figure drawing.

Gesture drawings are usually quicker, as you’re trying to capture the overall movement and feeling of a subject rather than the details.

Figure drawings are more slow and precise, often done with a model or reference photo.

Gesture drawings are also done without lifting the pencil from the paper, while figure drawings can involve lifting the pencil to add details.

This continuous line gives gesture drawings a more fluid feel. When to use gesture drawings.

Gesture drawings can be used in any situation where you want to capture the feeling or movement of a subject.

They’re often used by artists as a warm-up before starting a more detailed piece. Gesture drawings can also be used to capture the feeling of a moment, or to help you come up with ideas for a more detailed drawing.

Anatomy Drawing vs Gesture Drawing. Gesture drawings focus on movement and have less detail than anatomy or figure drawings.
Anatomy Drawing vs Gesture Drawing. Gesture drawings focus on movement and have less detail than anatomy or figure drawings.

Understand the basics of gesture drawing

When you’re starting out, it’s important to understand the basics of gesture drawing. This means understanding the movement of poses and how to capture that in your drawings.

You don’t need to worry about getting the anatomy perfect just yet, that will come with practice. Remember: Gesture drawings are not anatomy drawings.

gesture drawings figures

Focus on the shapes and forms

One of the best ways to improve your gesture drawings is to focus on the shapes and forms that you recognize.

This means breaking things down into recognizable shapes.

Look for the basic shapes like circles, squares, and triangles in the human body. Once you start seeing these shapes, you can begin to add more details to your drawings.

Use basic shapes, loosely drawn.
Use basic shapes, loosely drawn.

Use different types of lines

Gesture drawings are a great opportunity to experiment with different types of lines. You can use thin lines, thick lines, wavy lines, etc. This will help you add more interest and variety to your drawings.

Try different types of lines.
Try different types of lines.

How to do gesture drawings

There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when doing gesture drawings:

  • Use light, quick strokes. This will help you capture the feeling of movement and avoid getting bogged down in details. Light stroked will also stop you from getting tired and sore, it will also reduce your chances of getting repetitive strain injury on your wrist and fingers.
  • Keep your pencil moving. Don’t lift it off the paper until you’re done with the drawing.
  • Focus on the general shape of the subject. Again, you’re going for feeling over details.
  • Try not to think too much. The best gesture drawings come from letting your hand move without overthinking it. Criticize yourself after you’re done drawing not during.

Gesture drawing tips

The following are some tips to help you with your gesture drawings:

Keep your pencil light

Keeping your pencil light will help you to make quick, light strokes that capture the feeling of movement.

In addition to keeping your pencil light, keep your pencil moving. Don’t lift it off the paper all the time, try to work the gestures and movements until you’re done with the drawing.

Use quick, short strokes

When you’re drawing a gesture, you want to use quick, short strokes. This will help to capture the feeling of movement and energy in your drawing.

Try not to make what are commonly referred to as ‘chicken scratchings’, keep the lines well linked but short.

Capture the general shape first

Before you start to draw smaller shapes, you must capture the general shape of the gesture. This means getting the overall proportions and position of the figure down on paper.

To do this you can draw some guidelines across the page that will help you break a form into commonly understood proportions.

Once you have this, you can start to add in the details.

From the Loomis figure drawing book - free digital download available. Link below.
From the Loomis figure drawing book – free digital download available. Link below.

Don’t think too much – let your hand move naturally

The whole point of gesture drawings is to let your hand move naturally, without too much thinking.

If you start overthinking the process, you’ll likely get tense and your drawing will suffer as a result.

At that point, your brain will kick into “let me draw a detailed anatomy drawing” which is not what we want to do with gesture drawings. Just relax, take a deep breath, and go with the flow.

Focus on the gesture rather than on getting the drawing “right”

Remember, the focus should be on the gesture rather than on getting the drawing “right.” This means that you shouldn’t worry too much about making everything perfect.

Just let your lines flow and go with it. You can scribble over and around anything incorrect rather than trying to fix what you have already put down.

Practice regularly to improve your skills

If you want to get better at gesture drawings, then you need to practice regularly. Set aside a little time each day, or each week, to work on your skills. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.

Some people think that 2 weeks is all you need to get gesture drawings down and they tick it off as done, never to do another gesture drawing again.

The thing is, even famous artists continued with gesture drawings throughout their careers and this means learning and practicing gesture drawings for years.

Use Gesture figure drawing references

When you’re starting out, it can be helpful to use references. Gesture figure drawing references are great for helping you get the proportions and positions of the body right.

You can find gesture figure drawing references online, or in art books. Once you feel confident with your skills, you can start working from memory, or from life.

Other gesture drawing references are photos of people in action or videos. You can pause the video and draw each frame, or play it at a slow speed and try to capture the movement.

Additionally, you can use wooden models or mannequins. These can be posed in different positions, and you can take your time to draw them.

wooden models or mannequins

Some wooden models are so well made that they allow you to move them into various shapes depicting movement.

fancy wooden models that look realistic

Finally, I use myself and a mirror as a gesture drawing reference, especially when it comes to drawing specific limbs.

Draw full limbs

If you want to improve on your gesture drawings you need to learn to draw full limbs and torsos to get a feel for how the body moves.

When you see how limbs connect to the torso it will help you understand how the body moves as a whole.

Draw more fluid and continuous lines

Use a light touch when you draw gesture lines. This will help you to make your lines more fluid and continuous, rather than choppy and disconnected.

Improve the confidence of your pencil strokes 

One way to improve the confidence of your pencil or charcoal strokes is to hold the pencil or charcoal higher up when you draw. This will help you to make your lines more fluid and continuous.

Don’t add details when doing gesture drawings

Adding details to your drawings will only slow you down and make it more difficult to capture the gesture.

Keep your drawings simple and focus on the overall gesture of the figure. Try to avoid drawing faces, fingers, toes, and hair (unless you want to depict movement with hair) and avoid clothing or making the gesture drawing anatomically correct.

gesture drawings

Work quickly when drawing gestures

The whole point of gesture drawings is to work quickly and capture the movement and energy of the figure.

Working too slowly will result in a stiff and lifeless drawing. Set a timer for 1-2 minutes and see how many gesture drawings you can do in that time.

As you become more confident with gesture drawings, you can increase the amount of time you spend on each one. But always remember to focus on the overall gesture of the figure rather than the details.

Draw from life whenever possible

This is the best way to get a feel for how people and animals move.

If you can’t find a live model, use photographs or video references.

Don’t get too caught up in getting every detail perfect. The point of gesture drawings is to focus on the overall movement and feeling of the subject.

When you’re first starting out, it’s helpful to do quick gesture drawings for 1 minute or less. This will help you get used to working quickly and capturing the essence of your subject.

As you become more comfortable with the process, you can increase the amount of time you spend on each drawing.

The other great reason to draw from life is that you can take a sketchbook with you and draw everyday gestures of people sitting down having a coffee, socializing, waiting for a bus, eating with friends, or just walking or running to catch a train or cab. Imagine a man running with a newspaper in hand trying to hail a cab.

Draw people in various shapes of movement, not just standing or running. Try people twisting as they turn to see someone call their name, or standing on their toes as they try to reach something from a high shelf.

Try blind and semi-blind drawing

Blind and semi-blind drawing exercises are useful when you want to really push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

Blind drawing is when you draw without looking at your paper. This forces you to really focus on what you’re feeling and observing, rather than what you think you see.

Semi-blind drawing is when you cover up most of your paper, leaving only a small area uncovered. This allows you to get a feel for the overall shape of your subject before getting

Practice with different subjects

Don’t just practice drawing people. You can also try drawing animals, inanimate objects, or anything else that catches your eye. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at gesture drawings.

Keep a sketchbook to track your progress

One of the best ways to improve is to keep track of your progress. Get a small sketchbook and fill it with gesture drawings. As you get better, you’ll be able to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

I also like to use my sketchbook for drawing warmups and gesture drawings are also a great way to warm up as an artist.

Experiment with different techniques and mediums

Gesture drawings don’t have to be done with pencil and paper. You can also try using charcoal, pastels, or even a digital tablet. Experimenting with different mediums will help you find the one that works best for you.

I love making gesture drawings using a biro or pen and drawing in the corners of my workbooks and notebooks. They help free up my mind as I try to solve other puzzles for the day.

Take feedback and criticism positively

If you’re taking a class or workshop, listen to the feedback your instructor gives you. They can offer valuable insights on how to improve your drawings.

Even if you’re not in a formal setting, ask a friend or family member for their honest opinion on your gesture drawings. constructive feedback can help you become a better artist.

Another place I found quite useful is posting photos of your gesture drawings in art groups such as those on Facebook or Reddit (my preference) where many artists are all too happy to tell you what is wrong and where you have gone wrong (in the nicest way).

Even the scathing critiques may have valuable feedback so develop that thick skin and test it out.

Practice, practice, practice

Like anything else, the more you practice gesture drawing, the better you will become at it. So don’t be discouraged if your first few attempts aren’t perfect. Just keep practicing and you’ll eventually get the hang of it!

Recommended Gesture drawing resources

There are many online resources you can access if you are unable to attend a class in person. Some gesture drawing studies and books you can refer to are:

  • Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth by Andrew Loomis

You can either purchase a hardcopy of this book below but as it is now in the public domain, you can also download a free digitized copy from I downloaded a PDF copy of the book.

  • Gesture Drawing: A Story-Based Approach by April Connors
  • A Brief Introduction to Drawing & Gesture Drawing: Tips and Techniques (Black and White) by Lara Klopp
  • Gesture Drawing for Animation by Stanchfield and Brodie

Online courses

Additionally, you can purchase some online courses from Udemy which are fantastic as they provide video based training that is almost as good as attending an actual class in person.

The Art & Science of Figure Drawing: GESTURE

The Power of Gesture Drawing: how to gesture draw figures

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